The clarion call went out in 2011. Ok, it wasn't really a clarion call – it was just a simple blog post – so it was more like a softly whimpering acknowledgment. I wrote about a Mennonite family of four that had been overcome and killed by fumes from their farms manure pit in 2007. Each person had been trying to rescue the previous after they fell in the pit. Tragically, it was not the largest single manure pit tragedy. A family of 5 encountered a similar fate back in 1989.
Now, the Washington Postrecounts two recent manure pit deaths, each involving immigrant workers in Idaho.
One of them had only been working on the farm for two weeks when his tractor tipped over into a pit of cow manure. Another worker attempted to rescue him, but was unable to get him out of the thick, gooey liquid. The other worker killed in a manure pit late last year apparently lost control of his work truck and crashed into the pond.
Additionally, a third Idaho dairy worker was killed recently when he was crushed by a skid loader, which is used to handle feed and manure.
Agricultural workers suffer more workplace fatalities more than almost any other position. It is ironic, considering that in many states they are one of the few employment groups often exempt from protections under workers' compensation.
Experts say the issue is being compounded by the increased dependence on immigrant workers, who often have less training or experience dealing with farm equipment and livestock. This untrained workforce is far more vulnerable to on the job injury or death, simply because they are unaccustomed to the challenges of their work environment.
The post article points out that the 1,500 pound animals on a typical commercial dairy farm can “generate more waste in a day than a medium-sized city”. That is literally a load of crap, and not in the sarcastic, disagreeable sense. The paper reports that there were 6,700 injuries on dairy farms with more than 11 employees in 2015. That rate was more than double the average for other private industries. On those farms, 43 laborers died.
In Idaho, dairy industry leaders are responding by rolling out new “statewide training protocols aimed largely at its Spanish-speaking workforce.” It is reported that approximately 90 percent of Idaho's 8,100 dairy farmworkers were not born in the United States. That is significantly higher than other states, where it was reported that slightly more than half of dairy farms' 150,000 employees are immigrants.
Ironically, Idaho is one of the states that now mandates protection of agricultural workers under their workers' compensation system. They removed the agricultural exemption in 1996. Unfortunately, as recently reported by Phil Yacuboki's “Undocumented and Unprotected?” series here on WorkersCompensation.com, Idaho does not provide benefits if those workers are illegal.
I suspect for a decent number of those workers' that leaves them in true peril.
Clearly dairy farm work, as with all agriculturally based employment, is hard and dangerous employment. Every single one of us benefits from the labor these people provide in order to get food and consumables to our tables. We should make sure that they are afforded proper training and protection, and ensure they are able to get home to their families at the end of the day to enjoy the fruits of their own labor.
After all, as I've said before, a manure pit is a truly crappy place to die. No one deserves that fate, no matter where they were born.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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